Tuesday, March 25, 2008

International greediness

David Forsythe
"Transnational Corporations and Human Rights"
Human Rights in International Relations

pg 224
"There is a disconnect between much of the normative framework for national capitalism and (to prevent gross exploitation) and the main concern of regulation of international capitalism (to stablize capitalism regardless of exploitation)."

"In the national political economy, at least from the view of nationality and with class considerations aside, we are all 'us'. In the international political economy, there is an 'in' group - us - and an 'out' group - them. Nationalism being what it is, as long as the benefits flow to 'us', the moral imperative to show concern for 'them' is reduced. The World Development Report, produced by the United Nations Development Program, regularly chronicles the large and growing gap between the wealthy global north and the impoverished global south. As one would expect in a situation of mostly unregulated international economics where a sense of global community is weak, the elites with property rights and capital prosper, and many of the have-nots live a life on the margins of human dignity. Dickens would not be surprised."

pg 226
"Politically, when corporations deal with repressive governments and/or those known to violate international standards on human rights and humanitarian affairs, to get the business, companies tend to defer to governmental policies. This is true not just of IBM in Nazi Germany. The Caterpillar Company, when urged by certain human rights groups to not allow its its bulldozers to be used by Israel in ways that violated international humanitarian law in the West Bank ( collective punishments through of destruction of houses alleged to be linked to 'terrorists'), said it was a matter for the Israeli government. Had Caterpillar withdrawn, it is likely that Israel would have continued the policy through a different company".

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Prisoner of Politics and Fear

March 24, 2008

Sami Al-Arian's Long Ordeal


Sami Al-Arian is a political prisoner in Police State America. This article reviews his case briefly and updates it to the present.

Because of his faith, ethnicity and political activism, the Bush administration targeted Al-Arian for supporting "terrorism." In fact, he's a Palestinian refugee, distinguished professor and scholar, community leader and civil activist.

Nonetheless, the FBI harassed him for 11 years, arrested him on February 20, 2003, and falsely accused him of backing organizations fronting for Palestinian Islamic Jihad--a 1997 State Department-designated "Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)."

A week later, in spite of his many awards, impeccable credentials and tenured status, University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft fired him under right wing pressure.

Since February 20, 2003, Al-Arian has been imprisoned--first at Tampa, Florida's Orient Road jail, then on to more than a dozen different maximum and other federal prison facilities. He's currently on hunger strike at Warsaw, Virginia's Northern Neck Regional jail after being transferred back March 18 from Butner, North Carolina's medical prison.

Al-Arian's trial began in June 2005 and was a travesty. It lasted six months, cost an estimated $50 million, and the prosecution called 80 witnesses, including Israeli intelligence agents and victims of suicide bombings to prejudice the jury. It introduced portions of hundreds of wiretapped phone calls from over a half million recorded; "evidence" from faxes, emails and what was seized from his home; quotes from his speeches and lectures; conferences, events and rallies he attended; articles he wrote; books he owned; magazines he edited; and various publications he read--all legal and in no way incriminating unless falsely twisted to appear that way.

After years of effort and millions spent, Al-Arian was exonerated. On December 6, 2005 after 13 days of deliberation, the jury acquitted him of all (eight) "terrorism" charges. They were deadlocked 10--2 for acquittal on nine others. All of them were false and unjust.

Nonetheless, within days, the Justice Department said it would re-try him on the lesser charges. His lawyers called it legal but a highly unusual move. At the same time and in secret, a plea bargain deal was struck. It stipulated:

* Al-Arian neither engaged in or had any knowledge of violent acts;

* that he would not be required to cooperate further with prosecutors; and

* that he would be released on time served and deported voluntarily to his country of choice.

In the meantime, Al-Arian remained in custody pending sentencing and deportation on May 1, 2006. He expected to be free and his ordeal ended. Instead, the presiding judge changed the deal. He sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months, gave him credit for time served, and ordered him held for the remaining 11 months, after which an April 2007 deportation would follow. Now it's extended as explained below.

In October 2006, assistant prosecutor Gordon Kromberg violated plea bargain terms by subpoenaing Al-Arian before a grand jury. His defense attorneys tried to block it by citing his "no-grand jury cooperation" provision to prevent DOJ from springing a perjury-obstruction trap. Defense's motion was denied, and on November 16 Al-Arian refused to testify and was held in contempt.

A month later, the grand jury expired, a new one was convened, and Al-Arian was again subpoenaed to testify. He continued to refuse, was held in contempt, and had his sentence increased without mitigation to April 7, 2008.

On March 3, 2008 Kromberg ordered Al-Arian before still another March 19 grand jury, three weeks before his scheduled release and deportation. On the same day, Al-Arian began a hunger strike against the government's continued harassment. It's his third one but is life-threatening for a man in his condition. He's diabetic and needs regular sustenance to avoid serious health problems. His January through March, 2007 strike depleted one-fourth of his body weight, gravely harmed him, and ended only at the urging of his family.

He's now 20 days into his latest fast, lost 30 pounds, is weakening, and his life is endangered. On March 12, Al-Arian was transferred to the Butner, North Carolina medical facility where treatment is poor, the staff indifferent, and in Al-Arian's case hostile to a designated enemy of the state. On March 18, he was returned to Warsaw, Virginia's Northern Neck Regional jail ahead of his third grand jury appearance. Again, he refused to testify, so he'll likely face new contempt charges and continued confinement.

George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley heads up Al-Arian's legal team. On March 3, he released the following statement:

"On behalf of Mr. Olson and Mr. Meitl and the entire legal team, (we are greatly disappointed by) the Justice Department('s) continu(ing)....effort to mete out punishment that it could not secure from a jury. Having lost (its) case (it's) openly sought to extend (Al-Arian's) confinement by daisy-chaining grand juries. As in other cases, the government has given Dr. Al-Arian the choice of an obvious perjury trap or a contempt sanction. (Either way assures his imprisonment. This) choice....is obnoxious to our legal system and contrary to any standard of decency. The mistreatment of Dr. Al-Arian remains an international symbol of how the Bush Administration has discarded fundamental principles of fairness in a blind pursuit of retribution against this political activist. We stand committed to fighting this great injustice and hopefully reuniting Dr. Al-Arian with his family and friends."

In the meantime, his long ordeal continues at a time lawlessness prevails over justice, and we're all Sami-Al-Arians in America's "war on terrorism."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Is the Iraq war vanishing from US view?

By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Washington

The US-led war in Iraq is now five years old. Yet it seems the American media and public are paying less attention than ever.

Coverage has declined sharply, according to a Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism study, falling from an average of 15% of news output last August to just 3% in February this year.

A separate Pew study found that only 28% of Americans recently polled could correctly identify the number of US troops killed in Iraq, compared with more than half in August last year.

In response, the non-partisan Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) group launched a petition this week calling on the major US TV networks to "make sure the Iraq war is getting the coverage it deserves".

While the week of the war's fifth anniversary has seen an increase in coverage, much of it has been retrospective in tone, analysts say, rather than focused on events now.

So what has led to this apparent fading from view of the third-longest war ever undertaken by the US? And is it set to last?

'Iraq fatigue'

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has been monitoring coverage of the Iraq war since January last year, looking at 1,300 news stories a week from 48 different sources.

A comparison of the figures from 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 reveals "a dramatic decline in coverage", said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the PEJ.

He puts the drop down to three key factors:

The political fight over the war's course, which dominated the early months of 2007 after the Democrats took control of Congress, effectively ended when President George W Bush won the battle over funding in the summer - so news coverage of the policy debate shrank

The level of violence in Iraq began to diminish as the "surge" policy of increased troop numbers came into effect, "so there is less coverage coming out of Iraq partly because there is less violence and carnage"

The demands of covering two giant stories - the Iraq war and the 2008 presidential race - put big pressure on media resources. By the end of 2007, the election was dominating the news agenda and has been ever since; the economy, not the war, has emerged as the dominant theme
In addition, the Iraq war has been tough for the media to cover because of its long duration and the tremendous physical risk to journalists on the ground, Mr Jurkowitz said.

As for the US audience, he added, many people appear to have "made up their minds" about the rights and wrongs of the war, and so are not looking for more media focus.

"'Iraq fatigue' would be a fair way to describe the public's state of mind at the moment," he said.

'Pretty distressing'

For Major Raymond Kimball, a veteran of the Iraq conflict who is now an assistant professor of history and a representative of IAVA, that message is hard to hear.

"Many of us still have friends and comrades over there in service right now and so it's very disturbing when what they are doing for better and for worse is being [knocked] off the pages by, for example, Eliot Spitzer's misdemeanours and what hospital Britney Spears has been checked into recently," he said.

"It is pretty distressing that the media coverage has dropped off so much and that so few Americans are really in tune with that."

Major Kimball agrees that the decline in media attention is in part down to a relative reduction in violence over the past few months - citing the old truism of "it bleeds, it leads".

The second reason, he believes, is that there "has not been any real engagement by the American public" with the war, with the result that there has been little pressure for more media interest.

Major Kimball puts the lack of engagement down to the fact that only a small percentage of Americans have a direct connection with the military, so they are not seeking information.

The danger is, he says, that if citizens are not well-informed about the war, they will be less equipped to use their vote in November's congressional and presidential elections to shape US policy.

A sense that the war has fallen off the radar at home also has an impact on soldiers' morale, he adds.

"I would be willing to say that the vast majority of soldiers on the ground in Iraq believe in what they are doing, think it's valuable - which makes it all the more of a slap in the face when they feel that no-one is reading about it or hearing about it back home."

'No lessons learned'

An early study of this week's fifth anniversary news coverage by the PEJ suggests the war has still received considerably less attention than the presidential campaign and the economy.

Joshua Meyrowitz, professor of media studies at the University of New Hampshire, is critical of both the media's performance and the American public's failure to demand more.

"I thought the anniversary coverage was pathetically light in both senses of the word - that there wasn't very much of it except as it affected the presidential race, the story of the moment... and it just had no texture, no context, no lessons learned," he said.

He argues that the US media's lack of scrutiny of the case for going to war in Iraq and its conduct since makes it more likely that the public would accept a case for attacking Iran, should it be made.

'Sharp focus'

Whether Iraq stays largely out of the headlines as the year progresses will depend partly on events on the ground - and partly on US politics as November's election approaches.

If a recent spike in violent attacks gathers pace, media interest could pick up, Mr Jurkowitz predicts.

He also believes that once the White House race begins in earnest between presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama for the Democrats, differences in Iraq war policy will "come into really sharp focus" and demand media attention.

In the meantime, IAVA hopes its petition - addressed to ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox News and CNN - will prick some consciences and turn the spotlight back on Iraq.

Major Kimball said: "Five years ago on Tuesday I was sitting in the Kuwaiti desert doing equipment and vehicle checks and getting ready to drive north.

"Five years later, it's amazing to me that I'm basically having to get on a soapbox and remind Americans that their men and women are engaged in conflict overseas. That's saddening."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

UM 'Israel Lobby' event draws hundreds

By Will Youmans - The Arab American News
Friday, 03.21.2008

ANN ARBOR — Two years ago, two prominent American scholars broke the silence on a taboo often referred to as the "third-rail of politics," the disproportionate power of the Israel lobby. A fairly obscure intellectual journal, "The London Review of Books," published their essay, "The Israel Lobby."

In it, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt of Harvard, claimed that American policy in the Middle East is not guided by national interests. Instead "U.S. policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the "Israel Lobby.'"

This article sparked a thunderous debate, bringing about backlash from pro-Israel scholars, activists and politicians. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League criticized the essay and its authors, claiming it resembled the "Jewish conspiracy" tales peddled by anti-Jewish racists.

Despite the anger directed towards these leading scholars of politics, hundreds of thousands of people downloaded the article and a longer version from a Harvard website. The authors released a book in which they refined their arguments and bolstered them with research. It became a New York Times bestseller.

It is no surprise then that four hundred and fifty people crammed into an auditorium at the University of Michigan on Friday, March 14, 2008 to hear them present their case.

The event was arranged by the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a student group at the university founded in 2001.

Campus officials were concerned the event would invite hostility from Israel's supporters on campus. The student newspaper reported that Sue Eklund, the outgoing associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, wanted to create a "notion of campus climate" by welcoming controversial speakers.

The event went smoothly, however. Pro-Israeli activists passed out literature before the event and were not disruptive.

Professor Ron Stockton, who teaches political science at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, introduced the professors by explaining the impact of their writings and suggesting that communication technologies enhance the flow of such ideas. He said such advances can transform societies, citing the rise of Barack Obama as an example.

Professor Walt opened with a detailed and thorough argument proving the lobby, a "loose network" exists. He clarified that such a lobby is "as American as apple pie." However, he said he was concerned because of its disproportionate weight in foreign policymaking. Professor Meirsheimer centered on the more difficult part of their work, that the lobby's policy positions and influence are bad for the United States and Israel.

Not everyone was pleased with everything they said. Sairah Husain, a junior at the university, said "although I disagreed with their support for the existence of the state of Israel, to even say what they did was big." Many questioned them on this point during the question and answer session.

They cited centuries of Jewish suffering as one reason Israel has a right to exist.

However, Mearsheimer and Walt argued that Jimmy Carter was correct. In the absence of a viable two-state solution, the situation there will resemble apartheid.

After the event, I asked Professor Mearsheimer what is the difference between that point and now. He said when the demographic balance swings in the Palestinians' favor, their largely rightsless existence will mirror apartheid. This, he pointed out earlier, is an analysis shared by Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

The professors wrote about this topic in the hope of opening up the debate on America's relationship with Israel. They felt this discussion was muffled by those who are quick to silent critics and unwilling to engage in open debate. At the University of Michigan last Friday, they found a large group of people more than happy to listen and consider their views.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

France's sordid housing crisis

By Jonny Dymond
Europe Correspondent, BBC News

It took six months for Liberation journalist Ondine Millot to get to the truth about the most sordid side of France's housing crisis.

Look through some property websites and you can see the advertisements: the phrase you are looking for is contre services - when a room in an apartment is offered, sometimes "free", in exchange for services.

Sometimes the service is perfectly innocent - cleaning the apartment or washing clothes, to defray some of the high cost of renting property.

But sometimes it is not: instead the requests are sexual, demeaning, bordering on the perverse. "Sex twice a month," is one blunt demand. Another asks for someone "open in spirit and elsewhere".

"Flat in exchange for libertine services," goes another.


Ondine Millot - who in her day job is the court correspondent for the French daily paper - spent six months researching these advertisements and the people who place them, for an article which exposed the trade in property-for-sex.

"I was very surprised to find out that this kind of thing was going on," she says.

"We called a lot of men, I made something like 50 phone calls. Most of the ads that were 'against services', where no amount was specified for the rent, were men that were looking for sex in exchange for housing."

But the problem is not just hidden away on websites.

Take a quick look through the bookshelves of any decent-sized newsagent, and tucked between the biographies of the former French First Lady and the former American First Lady is the extraordinary account of Laura D.

Her book, My Dear Studies (Mes Cheres Etudes), details the anonymous young woman's slide from being a fresh-faced undergraduate, to a poverty-stricken student, to a 19-year-old selling her body to pay the rent.

"Laura", when I meet her at her publisher's, is charming, if desperately concerned to keep her identity secret, to spare her parents the horror of knowing how their daughter fell.

But she is also angry. It was, she says, the astronomical cost of property that sent her on to the streets.

"Rent was over 70% of my budget," she says.

"Looking at friends, people I know, they live in places that are unhealthy, squalid. Or they negotiate with landlords who rent them rooms and who sometimes abuse them."

Housing Crisis

Sex for rent is the extreme end of an extreme problem which is catching swathes of France's most vulnerable people - the young and the poor - in its grip.

France, the government admits, is in the grip of its worst housing crisis since the end of World War II.

Of course, sky-high property prices are hardly exclusive to France.

But some combination of circumstances has left the French - and especially the Parisian - rental market horribly stretched between supply and demand.

And too many people caught between homelessness and bankruptcy as they struggle to put a roof over their heads.

There are a far higher proportion of properties empty in Paris than in London. As the number sleeping rough has declined in the British capital, it has climbed in the French capital.

In Britain the norm is owner-occupation. While in France rental is seen as the way to live.


The French Republic was built on street protest. So, unsurprisingly, a new generation of housing protest groups have sprung up to campaign in innovative ways.

Groups such as Jeudi Noir, Droit au Logement and Les Enfants de Don Quichote have grabbed publicity - and, they say, won political concessions - through their protests.

The Ministry of Housing Crisis... a former bank in the centre of Paris
Jeudi Noir is the guerrilla wing of the movement, conducting sting operations on landlords looking for something extra on the side. They also view and film tiny apartments being advertised for extortionate rents.

Les Enfants de Don Quichote left the French government twisting with embarrassment with a mass sleep out in Paris last year, as hundreds of activists and homeless people slept in tents by the Seine.

Droit au Logement, alongside Jeudi Noir, has occupied a former bank right opposite the old Paris stock exchange, just down the road from the Bank of France. It has rechristened the building The Ministry of Housing Crisis, and uses it as both an operational base and a squat.

The groups' actions keep the issue in the public eye.

They know that great stunts are not going to get the million homes that France needs built.

But they also believe that unless the pressure is kept up on politicians local and national, then change will never come.

Christine Boutin, the French Housing Minister, has acknowledged the efforts of the campaign groups and has begun looking at ways to improve the conditions of the rental market.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gaza conditions 'at 40-year low'

Gaza conditions 'at 40-year low'

Gaza's humanitarian situation is at its worst since Israel occupied the territory in 1967, say UK-based human rights and development groups.
They include Amnesty International, Save the Children, Cafod, Care International and Christian Aid.

They criticise Israel's blockade on Gaza as illegal collective punishment which fails to deliver security.

Israel says its military action and other measures are lawful and needed to stop rocket attacks from Gaza.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, but retains control over Gaza's airspace and coastline, and over its own border with the territory.

It tightened its blockade in January amid a surge in rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Israel's Defence Ministry rejected the criticism in the report, blaming the Hamas militant group which controls Gaza.

"The main responsibility for events in Gaza is the Hamas organisation, to which all complaints should be addressed," a statement read.


The groups' report, Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion, says the blockade has dramatically worsened levels of poverty and unemployment, and has led to deterioration in education and health services.

More than 1.1 million Gazans are dependent on food aid and of 110,000 workers previously employed in the private sector, 75,000 have now lost their jobs, the report says.

"Unless the blockade ends now, it will be impossible to pull Gaza back from the brink of this disaster and any hopes for peace in the region will be dashed," said Geoffrey Dennis, of Care International UK.

Last week Israeli forces launched a bloody and destructive raid in northern Gaza, in which more than 120 Palestinians - including many civilians - were killed.

Israel says the measures are designed to stamp out frequent rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

Recent rocket attacks have hit deeper into southern Israel, reaching Ashkelon, the closest large Israeli city to the Gaza Strip.

Occupying power

The UK-based groups agree that Israel has the right and obligation to protect its citizens, urging both sides to cease unlawful attacks on civilians.

But they call upon Israel to comply with its obligations, as the occupying power in Gaza, to ensure its inhabitants have access to food, clean water, electricity and medical care, which have been in short supply in the strip.

"Punishing the entire Gazan population by denying them these basic human rights is utterly indefensible," said Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen.

"The current situation is man-made and must be reversed."

Other recommendations from the groups include international engagement with the Hamas movement, which rejects Israel's legitimacy and has been shunned by Israel's allies, and the Fatah party of Palestinian West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas.

"Gaza cannot become a partner for peace unless Israel, Fatah and the Quartet [the US and UN, Europe and Russia] engage with Hamas and give the people of Gaza a future," said Daleep Mukarji of Christian Aid.